“WHAT, then, will this child be?” It was the question that Zachariah and Elizabeth’s relatives and neighbors asked one another at seeing God’s hand working in the life of this elderly couple. In their old age and through their persevering faith, God finally blessed them with a son. 

The relatives and neighbors could not help but get involved in the elderly couple’s affairs, even in the choice of name for this child. We should name after his father, Zechariah, they retorted. To which Elizabeth responded, “No, he will be called John.” Zechariah confirmed the choice of this name by writing on a tablet since he became temporarily mute during the discovery of his wife’s pregnancy. At the mention of this name, his tongues loosened and started praising God!

“What, then, will this child be?”  Deep in the hearts of Zachariah and Elizabeth, they knew that God has a plan for their child. But as parents, they would do their part in raising this child to become what God intended him to be. They would facilitate God’s plan for John. They could not be a stumbling block to God’s mission in the life of their son. 

The question, “What, then, will this child be?” sounds relevant in today’s time, especially in the recent days when the news of children who were separated from their parents as they crossed the U.S.-Mexican border shook our world and deeply polarized us again as a political society. 

When it comes to these vulnerable members of our society, our hearts are moved with pity and compassion, no matter what our political leanings are. We can imagine our children that anyone can take away from us.  This separation would be the most painful thing that a family can experience. 

And so in appropriating the question, “What, then, will this child be?” in this Sunday’s Gospel on the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, in conscience we must ask ourselves these hard questions:

What must our response be as a nation and as Christians regarding the flight of thousands of children, including toddlers, that are at detention centers without the presence of their parents? And to go further on this issue, what must governments and nations do with refugees around the world who are helpless and powerless without any land or country to live? And if we put ourselves in the shoes of our desperate neighbors—we who are fortunate to have the rights and privileges of a nation–how would we feel and what we can do too? Indeed, what little things each of us can contribute in bringing solutions to these problems? 

I know that these are difficult and complicated questions and issues and there are no easy answers for them.  But the bottom line is that the Scriptures mandate us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to take care of the least of among us, the little ones, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. 

We can learn from the passion, zeal, and courage of the person whose birth we celebrate in today’s liturgy. John the Baptist grew up to become a fearless prophet, speaking up against the evils of the world, unyielding to the influence of corrupt and worldly power, and urging people to reform their lives.  We can at least possess a bit of his integrity and solidity of character.  We too can be prophets of our times! 

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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